Mateo Kovacic has been ruled out of tomorrow’s Champions League semi-final in Madrid by Thomas Tuchel, with Saturday’s hosting of Fulham now pencilled in as a possible return date for the Croatian.
Kovacic limped out of our final training session before the quarter-final second leg against Porto and has missed the past four matches with a muscle injury as a result.
The issue will continue to sideline the midfielder for this week’s European action, with Tuchel revealing that, as of Saturday evening, he had yet to train with the group at Cobham.
‘At the moment, we’re suffering a bit with our two number sixes because of the injury for Mateo,’ explained Tuchel after our victory at West Ham.
‘Hopefully he can come back against Fulham but he did not train with the team yet so I think that Tuesday will be too early unfortunately. He was so happy to play against his former team-mates and he is a crucial player for us.
‘He could have helped a lot in the last games against Brighton and West Ham with his technique and his ball runs but it’s like this. The team is doing an amazing job and we have to keep on going.’
Kovacic’s absence makes it likely that Jorginho and N’Golo Kante will continue in central midfield against Real Madrid, though the Chelsea head coach does have selection decisions to make in other areas.
Cesar Azpilicueta was deployed at right wing-back against West Ham in order to add height at centre-back and Tuchel will have to decide whether to continue with that tactic or revert the Spaniard to his more familiar right-sided centre-back role on home turf. Either way, the boss has no doubts about his captain’s ability to adapt and excel wherever he plays.
‘He’s fantastic and I want him absolutely to be on the pitch because he’s a fantastic captain and a fantastic sportsman,’ he continued.
‘He is everything Chelsea means in my point of view – he’s humble, he’s a fighter, he thinks constantly about winning and he does everything to be in shape every three days. He’s a true professional and there is no work too hard or distance too long for him.
‘We used him as a wing-back and it was a bit hard because he had to do several long runs. It was a bit different for him but we chose the back three with Andreas, Toni and Thiago because we knew about West Ham’s strength in set-pieces and we wanted to gain some centimetres in height.
‘Azpi is totally open to anything once he sees the reason why. He was very excited to be involved a bit more offensively and it’s nice to have this. The two positions [wing-back and full-back] suit him very well and he’s absolutely reliable.’
Tuchel will preview the Real tie in more detail at this afternoon’s media conference from Cobham before the team fly out to the Spanish capital and he is under no illusions about the size of the task facing the Blues in Madrid.
‘When you play against Real Madrid, it cannot be harder because they are the most experienced team in this competition,’ he added. ‘They’re on a good run at the moment, 16 games unbeaten or something like that, so they will play these games with full confidence and full awareness.
‘I hope we can play adventurous and aggressive football. We will fight them hard and then let’s see who gets the win out of these two games. It’s a big challenge but after we will be smarter and better because this will be a huge experience together.
‘When you are a little boy, you dream about games against Real Madrid and now it’s here so we are very happy to arrive in a situation on this level.’